A look back at last year’s predicted finish

It’s time to trot out that annual favorite, our preseason power rankings, in which we analyze the talent on our 12 teams post-draft and predict how they’re going to finish.

But first let’s take a look back at last year’s predictions and see how they turned out.

One year ago we said:

Wisconsin is going to kick our butts this year. Applegate’s evaluation shows the Warhawks have far and away the best offense in the league. Combine that with the third-best pitching and you’ve got a tandem that looks unbeatable, particularly in the South Division.

Wisconsin did indeed have a strong year with 90 wins but it was Savannah that dominated the division with 96. (Final standings)

Coming in at No. 2 in the overall rankings is the expected North Division powerhouse, the Springfield Isotopes.

You’ll recall that Springfield was part of that frantic final-month finish involving Tropical and Hickory, with the Heat pulling away for a three-game margin (90-87) over the Isotopes. Still, the Isotopes did make the playoffs.

In fact, the six teams that made the playoffs were in the top eight of our preseason ranking. The misfires:

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Checking out last year’s draft retention rate

With the 2011 draft now less than two weeks away, have you ever wondered just how many of those players we draft actually have staying power? How many of them are retained for the following year?

And you would think that early-round players are much more likely to be retained than later-round players, wouldn’t you?

To find out, we went back and looked at the 168 players taken in the 2010 draft, and compared them to the current pre-draft rosters. (Returning players are highlighted in yellow.) We found only 69 players had been carried over, just 41%.

The analysis found:

* Two players taken in the first round, Chone Figgins and Aaron Hill, were such busts that they were not retained. Ten players were retained.

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Savannah chops up Nuts for 2010 World Series crown

Steve Hart's Savannah Scorpions take home the trophy for 2010The Savannah Scorpions worked their ninth-inning magic in back-to-back games to gain momentum, then counted on big fellas Josh Johnson and CC Sabathia to carry the load the rest of the way, defeating the Hickory Nuts in five games to win the 2010 I-75 League World Series.

Hickory had won the opener 4-1 as Justin Verlander went the distance, but Savannah reeled off four wins in a row to take home the crown.

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Can’t get much more dramatic than this!

With one month to go in the 2010 I-75 League season, multiple dramatic finishes are poised to unfold:

* The North Division championship has Springfield and Tropical in a dead Heat at the 140-game pole, each with 78 wins. With Hickory managing just eight wins in August, the Isotopes and Heat have once again leap-frogged the Nuts to lead by three games with 20 to go.

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North shuffles and tightens; Detroit hurdles SGP in South

One month ago as we analyzed the August schedule, we warned:

Will Springfield come back to the pack in August? Possibly: The Isotopes face a schedule showing three 50-win opponents, plus Bismarck, coming off a 13-7  month.

That proved to be prophetic as the then-first-place Isotopes had their worst month of the season, going 7-13 one month after going 14-6, and falling out of first place.

Your new South Division leader: The Hickory Nuts, one of three teams in the league to post 12-8 marks in August as the league’s top record.

Springfield is just one game off the pace though, and Tropical two back, in a terrific three-way race. Bosh-wood — er, Bushwood — is six games back and not throwing in the towel, especially now with Stephen Strasburg less attractive as the No. 1 overall pick.

Over in the South Division, Savannah and Wisconsin were the other two teams to go 12-8, and thus the Scorpions maintained their hair-thin one-game lead. But making a move into playoff position were the Detroit Demolition Dogs, who finally have overtaken the South Grand Prairie Warriors for third place, but by the margin of just one game.

The September schedule affords Tropical a chance to makes its move, with only Wisconsin (at home) on the docket as a foe with a winning record.

Detroit’s position as a playoff team could be short-lived, alas, as the Demo Dogs face a murderous September schedule of Tropical, Springfield, Hickory and Savannah — all with 65 wins or more.

Who were the trade deadline winners?

Only one trade was consummated Saturday night by the midnight deadline, so it was extended a while longer to accommodate some slow-moving managers, and three more deals got done in “extended time.” Thank God we didn’t have to resort to corner kicks.

The complete trade rundown can be found elsewhere on the site; our job here is to evaluate the July deals and declare who gained the most advantages for this year and next.

1. Tropical, locked in a tight three-way battle for the Northern Division crown, acquired a No. 1 starter in Dan Haren and league slugging leader Adam Lind from Applegate; then added a treasured high on-base top-of-the-order player in Bobby Abreu from Margaritaville.

2. Detroit bolstered its chances of beating out South Grand Prairie for the third playoff spot in the South by picking up slugging second baseman Aaron Hill and clutch utility infielder Casey McGehee from Margaritaville.

1. Margaritaville, already looking to have a formidable offense, plugged a catching hole with Geovanny Soto from Tropical, and added a five-tool second baseman in Brandon Phillips from Detroit.

2. Superior bolstered its 2011 offense too, acquiring 1B Billy Butler from Hickory and OF Marlon Byrd from Savannah.

3. Applegate added the single biggest bat to change hands, with potential MVP OF Josh Hamilton coming over from Tropical.

Don’t forget to adjust your rosters in the Yahoo league.

Need a trade recap?

As trade talks continue to percolate, remember that you can always find an up-to-date rundown of all trades on our trades page.

The trade-a-thon is set for 8 p.m. to midnight ET in an AOL chat room tonight.

Exciting races brewing at 100-game mark!

The Northbound Division has its third division leader in as many months, while Southbound Division leader Savannah has Wisconsin hot on its heels with 60 games left to play in the 2010 I-75 league season.

On the strength of a 14-6 July, Springfield has leapt from third to first in the North, charging out to a three-game lead over slumping Tropical (8-12) and a four-game lead over sliding Hickory (9-11).

Meanwhile, Wisconsin (12-8) has closed to within one game of frontrunning Savannah in the South (11-9), and both are pulling away from the rest of the division. South Grand Prairie (8-12) has slipped into a tie with Detroit (9-11), with both teams under .500 at 47-53.

Will Springfield come back to the pack in August? Possibly: The Isotopes face a schedule showing three 50-win opponents, plus Bismarck, coming off a 13-7  month. But Tropical has an identical fate, while Hickory gets to face both Springfield and Tropical in an effort to reclaim its perch atop the division.

Wisconsin hosts Savannah in an August showdown in the South.

All or nothing for this year’s Gophers

From Dave Renbarger:

The Gophers are proud to announce that six of our players have earned All-Star recognition:  1B Albert Pujols; 2B Chase Utley (injured); SS Hanley Ramirez; 3B Scott Rolen; SP Tim Hudson; and RP Brian Wilson. 

This total no doubt will be surpassed by numerous teams in our league, but here is another stat that could be unmatched:

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Tropical skips past Hickory at halfway pole

The mildly surprising Tropical Heat have surged past the Hickory Nuts and into first place in the competitive Northbound Division at the season’s halfway point.

With a league-best team ERA of 3.79, Tropical is keeping foes off the scoreboard and letting its balanced offense scratch out enough runs to keep the club in the win column. July offers a favorable schedule to the Heat as well, with Springfield the only one of four opponents on the docket that comes in with a better-than-.500 record.

Meanwhile, in the Southbound Division, Wisconsin continued its much-anticipated climb up the standings, moving from third to second and setting its sights on first-place Savannah, just two games ahead. With an offensive machine that is hitting .291, while also sitting second in homers, and a pitching staff that is second in team ERA, it was only a matter of time before the stats began to translate into victories. Wisconsin also finds itself with a schedule breather in July, as apart from familial rival Hickory, the Warhawks face sub-.500 clubs.

Meanwhile, just eight games separate the bottom six clubs in the league — Bushwood’s 41 wins is the best mark among teams not holding a playoff spot, with Margaritaville only eight back at 33.

A brutal month is on the docket for Superior, with four series against teams high in the standings, including both first-place clubs. Savannah, meanwhile, faces nothing but second-division clubs this month.

When dice are cold, you can’t just change computers

We’ve all been there. Things just aren’t going your way. You’re finding all of the black holes, missing all of your split chances. You need to change up your luck, try something different.

In the old days we’d break out a new set of dice. How do you cope with a string of bad luck when you’re playing on the computer?

Here are some of the tricks the Clips employ:*

On offense:

We usually click in the lower left-hand corner of the dice box in the odd-numbered innings, and in the upper left-hand corner of the dice box in the even-numbered innings. When we get in a rut, however, we’ll try:

— Clicking with left hand on the mouse instead of right hand (this is usually the most effective slump-buster)

— Banging on the Enter key on the keyboard. This seldom busts a slump but is a good release of physical tension.

— Selecting Swing Away from the menu

— Using the keyboard shortcut of CTRL + G.

When we’re in the field, we usually click on the capital D in Defense to initiate play, but if the opponent is mounting a big inning, we’ll slide over to the “e” in Defense, and if we get an out, stay there. If not, slide over to the “f,” etc.

What are your tricks of the trade to try to swing momentum your way?

* Usually with little success.

By popular demand: Visit our swap shop

A few weeks ago we asked the audience: What kind of features do you want to see on the I-75 Strat League web site?

Two responses called for a tool to allow managers to share information about players they are looking to acquire or are willing to deal.

Thus we’ve created The Swap Shop. The trade deadline may be more than a month away, but savvy shoppers know that sometimes the best deals are the ones you get before somebody else does. So we’ve prepopulated the forum with some known positions for a few clubs. Please feel free to contribute your own team’s status — buyer, seller or fence-straddler?

Strasburg debut recalls the magical summer of ’76

(Image from MASN shows Stephen Strasburg wearing silver wig during postgame interview. Shaving cream pie came courtesy of John Lannan.)

 Stephen Strasburg is The Bird reincarnate.

The Nationals drew 40,000 fans to Strasburg’s debut Tuesday night in which he blew away the Pittsburgh Pirates, 5-2. Strasburg fanned 14 in seven innings — a Nationals record — and retired 10 in a row after allowing a first-row homer to Delwyn Young. He struck out the side in his seventh and final inning.

As with Mark Fidrych in the summer of 1976, the stadium was rocking. Instead of “We want the Bird!” the fans were chanting “Let’s go Stras-burg.”  They demanded a curtain call after he was removed from the game. They lingered in the stadium long after the game.

And you know they’ll be back for his next home start.

That silver wig he’s wearing is a Nationals lockerroom tradition, given to the MVP of victories. But no, he doesn’t talk to the ball or groom the mound like Fidrych. He’s got some really filthy stuff though.

Do you Yahoo?

It always seems that half of the league — or even more than half of the league — is “playing for next year.” And one of the tools that helps us determine how we’re progressing on that objective is our Yahoo! standings.

The “fantasy league” version of the I-75 Strat League serves as a way to monitor how your current Strat players are performing in real life, with an eye toward what kind of card they’ll have next year.

Some interesting trends have emerged in this year’s standings, never more pronounced than they were through Sunday’s games:

A mere three points separates the top four clubs — Bismarck, Margaritaville, Wisconsin, Superior.

Fifth-place Savannah is a whopping 30 points out of fourth.

Then come five more clubs — Hickory, Springfield, Applegate, Tropical, Bushwood — who are separated by just 2.5 points and who shuffle among the 6-10 spots on a nightly basis.

Detroit had been part of that mix until recently too, tumbling to 11th, and South Grand Prairie has consistently brought up the rear.

Do you put much faith in these rankings? Do they help you evaluate what kind of team you’ll have in 2011?

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Who is Bryce Harper and what’s all the excitement about?

Update, Tuesday, 1:35 a.m.: The Nationals did indeed draft Harper and announced they will develop him as an outfielder.

Update, Monday, 12:25 a.m.: Here’s USA TODAY’s feature from Monday’s paper on Harper.

If you don’t know about his hitting abilities, the first thing that will strike you about Bryce Harper is that he’s kinda creepy-looking. The 17-year-old junior college catcher, who is projected to be the Washington Nationals’ No. 1 overall pick in Monday’s amateur draft, wears his eye black in long smears that stretch down to his jaw.

But the Nationals are expected to look beyond that, as well as the opinions of some that Harper is arrogant, cocky, brash, etc. — which his teammates dispute — and snag the youngster regarded as one of the best hitting prospects ever

He’s gotten in trouble with umpires (ejected from the Junior College World Series) and opposing teams who sometimes think he’s showing them up. But he won’t turn 18 til October. And he’s the most highly-touted player of this age since Alex Rodriguez.

At age 16, Sports Illustrated anointed him “Baseball’s LeBron.” In high school he crushed a 570-foot homer (as measured by a school math teacher). He left high school after his junior year, got his GED and enrolled at Southern Nevada Junior College with his brother, Bryan. This year he hit .443 with 31 homers, 98 RBIs and 20 stolen bases in 66 games.

Jerry Crasnick, writing for ESPN.com, wrote:

It’s trendy these days to say that the ball sounds different when it leaves the bat of special players. In Harper’s case, it also looks, smells, feels and tastes different. He hits balls with an ozone-threatening, windshield-smashing authority that has to be seen to be believed.

Harper is a Scott Boras client, and it’s believed that Boras will hold out until the Aug. 15 signing deadline to squeeze every last dime out of the Nationals that he can, as he did with Stephen Strasburg.

That’s one reason that it’s unlikely he’ll get any major league at-bats this year. But if he does, and he were to earn a Strat card, and you could be fairly certain you’re getting an Alex Rodriguez-type hitter, how high could he go in the I-75 League draft?

Fun facts at the 60-game mark

Fun facts to know and tell at the season’s 60-game mark… (Got your own fun stat? Add in comments section…)

* Wisconsin has outscored its opponents by 38 runs, and  yet clings to a sub-.500 record (28-32). Also outscoring its opponents by exactly 38 runs is another Wilson-managed club, Hickory, but the Nuts have the league’s best mark at 38-22.

* Not a member of the Wilson family, but Savannah has also outscored its opponents by exactly 38 runs.

* Applegate has the worst record in the league versus left-handed starters (5-11), even though the Clips are hitting .270 in games in which the opposition starts a lefty, and .233 when they start a righty.

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It’s up to you: Post series results

For a long time we’ve endured a lot of uncertainty while the monthly play was underway: Just how is everybody doing? How many wins do teams have? What’s the latest standings?

We’ve become dependent on the e-mails that most — but not all — managers send out summarizing their series outcome. But often managers will delay in sending those out until they have the time to review the series and craft their e-mail.

Now there’s a simple, easy, instant way you can share your series outcome with the rest of the league.

I’ve modified our league schedule spreadsheet and posted it on the Web as a Google document, and have given all league managers rights to edit the document.  The document is prepopulated with a formula to update each team’s overall win total when a series outcome (raw victories) is added.

So, for example, Hickory hosts South Grand Prairie this month. When the series is over, Mike Wilson should go to the cell to the right of that series (D2) and enter in the number of wins for the Nuts. His total at the far right will automatically update.

So be sure to accept the invitation (I sent it to the e-mail address you use for your Strat business). You can play around with it now if you like, put in some numbers, click out of the cell, and watch your totals update. Just go back and erase the number until it’s real.  Click “Sign out” in the upper right when you’re done.

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Imperfect call: What should be done about it?

OK, you know full well what happened. Everyone concedes umpire Jim Joyce blew a call at the worst possible time: On the 27th out of a perfect game bid by Detroit’s Armando Galarraga. The question is, what if anything should be done about it? Let’s take the pulse of our I-75 League managers. Cast your vote or leave a comment.

60 down, 100 to go: Room to breathe in North

Whether you’re a fan of the butt-kicking guitar riff in the famous rockin’ tune by The Offspring, or a fan of the Northbound Division of the I-75 League, the motto is the same:

You gotta keep ’em separated.

(Highly recommend launching the video in that link and just letting it play while you read…)

One month after we saw a three-way tie atop the division with 24-16 records, we see a little spacing now after 60 games are in the books. Continue reading

Stephen Strasburg to debut with Nats June 8

The Nationals have announced that 2009 overall No. 1 draft pick Stephen Strasburg will make his major league debut June 8 against Pittsburgh, following one more minor league start for Triple-A Syracuse (June 3 vs. Buffalo).

The excitement over Strasburg (6-2 with a 1.43 ERA, 60 Ks in 50 1/3 minor league innings) has captivated Washington; three hours after Monday’s announcement, the Nats’ website was showing no tickets available for the June 8 game.

Many baseball observers have cast Strasburg as one of the best pitching prospects ever. So without even throwing a pitch, he’s certainly a candidate to be the overall No. 1 pick in next March’s I-75 League draft, along with Jason Heyward and possibly Bryce Harper.

(Don’t know Bryce Harper? Stay tuned for a subsequent post.)

The first-year player draft is June 7-9.  The Nats could draft Harper on June 7, start Strasburg on June 8, and have everyone in Washington wearing Nats caps to work on June 9.

Although it’s  unlikely, if the Nats were to give Harper enough at-bats in September to warrant a Strat card, the left-handed hitting 17-year-old phenom could be in contention for the No. 1 overall pick as well.

How much can we expect out of Strasburg? The Washington Post breaks down the rest of his season: Continue reading